Sunday, December 16, 2012

REVIEW: The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Director: Peter Jackson
Year 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a whimsical return to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, lovingly seen through the eyes of New Zealand director Peter Jackson and brought to life by an eclectic cast of outstanding actors. As the first of a proposed trilogy, An Unexpected Journey maintains all of the aspects of Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, yet scales it down to a more intimate portrayal of the young Bilbo Baggins and his colorful adventure in the company of Gandalf the Grey and thirteen dwarves, as they set out to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from the dragon Smaug. In fanciful and often over the top style, Jackson crafts this new trilogy in the vein of Tolkien’s original story, but never forgets to keep the continuity of his original trilogy intact as he explores all the richness that Middle-Earth has to offer. If you truly loved the three films that Peter Jackson gifted to the world of cinema nine years ago, then there is no reason why you shouldn’t be swept up in this new fun-filled adventure.

The film takes place 60 years prior to the events in The Fellowship of the Ring, focusing on a youthful Bilbo Baggins as he is swept up into one of the most unexpected of adventures. Bombarded by thirteen dwarves and a wizard, Bilbo is enlisted to partake as the company’s burglar, which charges him with the task of smuggling treasures from a dragon who has overtaken the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erabor. As they set out east towards the Lonely Mountain to reclaim their ancestral home, the company encounters monstrous trolls, vicious wargs, vengeful orcs, nasty goblins, and an ancient evil that is making its way back into the world of Middle-Earth. With such an impossible task ahead of them, it’s safe to say that the road ahead for this intrepid company will be a rough one indeed, but with the unexpected help of a small Hobbit, anything is possible.

Martin Freeman takes on the iconic role of Bilbo Baggins, the homebody Hobbit who has no interest in adventures, or dragons for that matter. Previously performed by the legendary British actor Ian Holm, Freeman takes the aspects that made the character in the original trilogy so endearing and memorable, and places his own personal twist on how an inexperienced Bilbo Baggins would react to being unwittingly enlisted on such a perilous mission as to reclaim a kingdom from a fearsome dragon such as Smaug. His apprehensive and ornery approach to the journey is stupendously executed and genuinely conveyed, and the spark of bravery that ignites in his character once deciding to partake in the quest is particularly infectious, making us want to join in on the company’s grand scheme and see the wonders that Middle-Earth has to offer. Martin Freeman was Peter Jackson’s first choice for Bilbo Baggins, and after seeing him in action as the iconic character you can see why. He gives Bilbo a heart and soul and a humanistic quality that allows you to really root for him and sympathize with all that he is going through. Bilbo Baggins is a small creature in an expansive world, and Freeman does a heartfelt job in portraying this centralized theme in the most subtle and inviting of ways.

Aside from Freeman’s excellent work in the film, Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage also manage to bring a substantial amount of weight to their respective characters. Of course, McKellen is reprising his role as Gandalf the Grey, the wise and compassionate wizard who we came to know in The Fellowship of the Ring, before he was reborn as Gandalf the White. Bringing with him that same charm and whimsical magic that so captured our hearts in 2003, McKellen melds into the character of Gandalf allowing us to be swept up all over again and taken on another outstanding adventure into the wilds of Middle-Earth. Richard Armitage takes on the character of Thorin Oakenshield, heir to the throne of Erebor and leader to the group of dwarves and Bilbo. Armitage has an amazing presence in this film and his portrayal of the jaded and hardened Thorin is a thing of beauty. While most of the dwarves emote a more capricious and quirky charm, Thorin on the other hand provides the movie with a dire and grave outlook on the state of Middle-Earth, particularly within the Dwarvish race. Haunted by his past and continually in fear of losing the Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor to a greater foe than Smaug, Armitage realizes all of these conceptualized themes in the clearest and succinct of ways providing a character that has a tremendous amount of pull and duality that will serve the story as it continues on to its second and third entries. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to seeing his full character arc by the end of this trilogy.

As for the rest of the cast, we’re given an overflow of overwhelming personalities in the form of the rest of the Dwarven adventurers. With a sea of fanciful names like, Balin, Dwalin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Fili, Kili, Oin, Gloin, Nori, Dori, and Ori, you’re asking for an abundance of confusion on the viewer’s part as they are lost in the confusion of names and faces within this varied party. Luckily Jackson is able to differentiate this Dwarven mess of personas from each other allowing for a select pick of the group to stand out as the story moves along. A few of the standout characters are Balin performed by Ken Stott, Bofur played by James Nesbitt, and Dwalin taken on by Graham McTavish. Balin and Bofur particularly make an impression on the audience, for they interact with the main players of the piece the most. There are some great moments in the film where Ken Stott’s Balin allocates a beautifully rendered back-story on Thorin and the way in which he earned his surname, Oakenshield, while James Nesbitt’s Bofur has a truly heartwarming scene between an apprehensive Bilbo Baggins as he has doubts of ever joining the party in the first place. There are many great instances like these throughout the film, and I can only speculate that we will be able to further explore the rest of the crew of Dwarves in the next two installments. Either way you look at it, the designs and personalities of the Dwarves are exceptionally creative and entirely enjoyable and the group as a whole gives a great cohesive feel for the history and brotherhood that the Dwarven race posses.

When it comes to the overall presentation of Middle-Earth, Peter Jackson has gone above and beyond the call of duty in painstakingly keeping the continuity of his previous iterations of this mythical world intact, while at the same time injecting an energetic feel to the proceedings. In this first entry of the new trilogy, the world of Middle-Earth feels more fanciful and fantasy based. In the Lord of the Rings films we were placed in a time period in Middle-Earth where tensions were running high and wars were engulfing the people of the land, but in The Hobbit we are introduced to a more peaceful era in which the rising of Sauron is only but a whisper in the grand scheme of things. We get a good deal of foreboding in the form of the Necromancer, which is Sauron’s first early attempt at effecting the world of Middle-Earth, but other then that the evil of this world is just beginning to sprout.

This is replicated in the way that Jackson depicts the world in this entry. The colors are brighter, the people more vivid, and the overall tone of the film is much more expressive in both their energy and whimsy. I find the difference between this entry and the atmosphere of the Lord of the Rings trilogy quite jarring but also rather engaging in the possibilities of being able to witness the overall feel of the entire series’ story arc, as we see the world of Middle-Earth change from an almost fairytale existence to a hardened world of dark change and formidable consequences. The contrast of the tone of the two trilogies is an interesting one and I’d also like to chock it up to that The Hobbit is more of a retelling by Bilbo Baggins in his own words. In the beginning of the film, we are re-introduced to the elder Bilbo Baggins, portrayed by Ian Holm, as he begins recollecting his past adventures while putting ink to paper in his journal. As I look back on the film after my first viewing, I like to think that maybe as he begins recalling his adventure, that he might tend to embellish what happened to him and his party like many storytellers are prone to do, resulting in the hyper-realized depiction of the film. 

What ever way you look at it, the end result is a rip-roaring rollercoaster ride that takes us from the humble beginnings of the party’s meeting at the Shire to the thunderous conclusion which pits the adventurers against an army of goblins underneath the Misty Mountains and a brutal squad of orcs riding wargs atop a perilous cliff side. The action moments of this film are sweeping to say the least, and you really get a sense that you are on one wild and crazy ride. Not only that, but the intimate and character driven moments of the movie are also just as enthralling and rewarding. From Thorin and Bilbo’s rocky relationship, to Gandalf’s desperate attempts to inform the White Council of a growing evil in Mirkwood Forest, to the Dwarves impassioned plan to retake Erebor, the film is jam-packed with some grand schemes and thought-provoking narratives. Though The Hobbit is stemmed from a children’s novel, Peter Jackson and crew have perfectly melded the whimsical tone of the novel with the epic scale of Jackson’s own Lord of the Rings movies, to make a origins film of sorts that only serves to add to the overwhelmingly expansive and storied cinematic world of this ever endearing series of fantasy films.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a wonderful start to what I’m sure will be a very satisfying trilogy for fans of the Lord of the Rings films. It has the realized world, the believable characters, and the overall impressive story arc that is needed in order to tell one hell of a compelling story. Immersive in every sense of the word, the story reveals a window into Middle-Earth that we’ve never seen before, yet it is as familiar as visiting an old and loved friend. With the return of so many original cast members like Ian McKellan, Elijah Wood, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis, and Christopher Lee, it’s hard not to get excited to revisit this beloved world.

What makes this film that much more enthralling and engrossing though, is the inclusion of so many new and exciting characters to fall in love with. Martin Freeman’s portrayal of Bilbo Baggins and Richard Armitage’s take on Thorin Oakenshield, is as captivating as they come and the madcap actions of all the Dwarves is a wonder to behold. Middle-Earth as a whole has never looked better, as we are presented with a never ending barrage of beautiful picturesque landscapes and outstandingly outlandish architecture. The visuals are supercharged with that affluent fantasy feel, which perfectly depicts this peaceful and carefree era of Middle-Earth just before the rising of the storm.

With its epic runtime and ultimately scolded decision to spread a two part movie into three parts, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey gives an excellent example on how more is better when it comes to imagining this extensive world that J.R.R. Tolkien has dreamt up. For me the pacing of the film, even in the early stages of the movie, were perfectly laid out, making this three hour film really fly by. And as for the decision to expand the films into a trilogy, how can we really complain about getting more Middle-Earth? As far as I’m concerned, I could watch an endless supply of these films if they stay at the same caliber that Peter Jackson and company have been able to churn out. If you have any apprehensions about seeing this film for yourself and you’re an avid fan of the already well established series of films, you owe it to your cinema loving self to see it as soon as possible. I have a feeling you won’t be disappointed. This new journey into Middle-Earth is…..

Why so serious Bilbo?

Freeman.... you sneaky little Hobbit.

Your hair looks exquisite Gandalf! What kind of conditioner do you use?

I shall call you STING!

Someone put the coins on Thorin's eyes, cause he sure don't believe what he is seeing.

Goblin King! You fat bastard!

Ahhhh! How cute.

Thorin's on top of the world!

Troll Opera is horrid.

Go long! SHIT!

Who's that sexy blacksmith?

How come I didn't get a pony Gandalf?

Radagast... You've got some shit on you.... Never mind.

You shall not.... Miss out on this awesome movie!

Dagnabbit! Is Thorin checking out my ass again?

I see you up there cameraman!

Gandalf? Was that you or the horse that just farted?


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